Meet Jala. She and I have been friends since middle school, and after vicariously following her 2-month family trip to Europe last summer, I wondered what it would be like to experience re-entry as a family with young kids. In this My Global Life interview, Jala talks about taking two months off work, traveling with kids, and experiencing re-entry as a family.
1. Jala, what prompted you and your husband to take a 2-month trip to Europe with young kids?
Our kids are young, 2 1/2 and 5, so we couldn’t really leave them home alone (that’s a joke). My husband and I have always had the travel bug, even before we met. And we met a bit later in life so, if we wanted to have kids, we needed to get on it. That meant that we didn’t get to do a lot of traveling before we started our family.
We feel that, just because we have kids, we shouldn’t have to give up our hopes, dreams and desires. And we also feel there’s so much value to showing our kids the world. We have thought about moving abroad, so this trip was a bit of a test to see what cities we liked the best and how it felt to be in a place knowing nobody.
I have been a freelancer for a long time but my husband has always been an employee of a company. Last year he ended up freelancing, too, so we felt that the summer of 2015 might be an ideal time to end our projects and take off for a couple of months. For us it was a lot about timing — it just came together. And even though the kids are young, sometimes you need to take advantage of opportunities when they come your way, because it’s never going to be perfect timing.
2. What was the best part about traveling as a family? Worst? Is there anything you’d do differently?
The best part of traveling together was knowing that, when we came home, we’d have memories to last a lifetime. Unique memories. We weren’t sure how much our kids would remember, but now that we’re home we’re very surprised what they retained, even the toddler. Our oldest son still throws out some Spanish words once in a while and we’ve been home for two months. He remembers children he met on playgrounds in Spain. And our toddler brings up being on airplanes every so often, which isn’t too shocking since we were on nine planes in 60 days.
The worst part was, well, the kids. They complained a lot — A LOT. They were hot and tired and hungry and full and cranky. We spent each and every day trying to make them happy. It’s hard enough having two kids under five-years-old at your own home, it’s a lot harder to have them in four countries, nine cities, multiple trains, cabs and buses over the course of 60 days. We feel very lucky in the choices we made about the cities we visited and our accommodations (go Airbnb!).
3. How did you all feel about going home at the end of your trip?
My husband and I were both very ready to be home at the end of two months. The unpacking and packing and moving around with two little guys is tiring. We were ready for things to be familiar again. But we were also both a bit anxious about coming home and needing to ramp our careers back up again. I had a lot of anxiety about not working for two months and coming home only to find out that people in my community forgot about me (that’s not what happened, thankfully).
4. What was it like once you got back in to Portland life?
I think when you have kids and a career, the only choice you have is to jump back in, quickly, with both feet. I felt adjusted back to regular life fairly quickly. We have such a strong community here in Portland…everyone was really excited to see the family and soak in the last couple weeks of summer with us. At times it felt like we never left.
5. How did going abroad with your family impact you and your family?
I think it’s definitely shown us that traveling with the kids, although difficult, is something we want to continue to do. There is a lot of world to see — it’s beautiful, old, delicious, friendly and interesting. I never want to stop learning about other places. I hope that the kids feel the same and that, traveling with them young, will make them curious about continuing to travel as adults. But, if they choose not to, that’s ok, too.
I love where we live. Portland, and Oregon, is a beautiful place. We’ve talked about living other places in the country but have decided that Portland is it for us. With that said, we’re still curious about other places, people, food, terrain and more. At the end of the day, it’s just all so interesting.
I also think that taking two months off of work and just focusing on each other and exploring has shown us that, although work is necessary, there’s more to life than the day-to-day grind. Now I’m not sure we’ll EVER be able to take two months off again, but getting the chance to experience it was priceless and a good gut check about what’s really important — which is each other.
7. Do you see more family travel in your future?